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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 68

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 68

Contents: * Fines Defaulters - A move by the Department for Courts to 'name and shame' fines defaulters appears to be working. Is there still a role for attaching stigma to unacceptable behaviour? * Educational achievement A stock-take of the New Zealand curriculum raises a number of important issues and it seems we aren't doing as well internationally as the report claims. * Te Mangai Paho Despite the politicking we can still expect basic accountability from the Maori Broadcasting Agency, Te Mangai Paho.

Fines Defaulters

Recent moves by the Department for Courts to publicly identify fines defaulters appear to be working. Over the last two weeks, defaulters' names have been published in major newspapers. Southern Area Collections Manager Eileen McGregor said on Tuesday that 185 from a list of 500 people have responded, some paying their full fine and others making arrangements to do so. Mrs McGregor commented that even people not named were encouraged to take action now to avoid their names being published. "Many of these people were not named in the newspaper but the possibility of such action has encouraged them to deal with their fines now rather than later," she said.

The deeper issue is that stigma still has a positive role in identifying and reinforcing 'good' and 'bad' behaviour. The Department of Courts action goes against the prevailing climate of non-judgmentalism and political correctness, and is all the more refreshing because of that. The 'name-shame' campaign provokes individual conscience while maintaining wider community confidence that those caught in wrongdoing will make good and pay their debt - quite literally in this instance.

Educational achievement

Lester Flockton, co-director of the Educational Assessment Research Unit (EARU) based at Otago University, says the NZ school curriculum is creating an angry underclass of uneducated minority groups. In its recent curriculum stocktake report (Stocktake) commissioned by the Ministry of Education, EARU frequently refers to the underachievement of Maori and Pacific Island children. It blames mainstream schools for having 'culturally inappropriate contexts' that prevent some children from achieving.

The Stocktake illustrates the confusion gripping the curriculum. It confuses quality with 'the specific goals of a group'. It suggests that excellence is relative to cultural context and that no objective measure for quality or excellence is possible because no agreed, universal standard can be applied. The 1993 Curriculum Framework and syllabus statements in the seven essential learning areas are said to be 'coherent and comprehensive'. But this is dubious.

The New Zealand curriculum is an ideological battleground. Neo-Marxism is prominent, with its push to equalise educational and social outcomes, as is the cry of economic reductionism, which wants 'useful' outcomes in subjects like Science, Mathematics and Technology. This jockeying for ideological prominence has loaded the curriculum to the detriment of clear achievement standards.

The Stocktake also claims 'New Zealand secondary students consistently score relatively highly in tests for different forms of literacy compared with their international counterparts'. This too is contestable. A UNICEF Innocenti Report Card states that '50% of New Zealanders performed at the two lowest literacy levels across three measures in IALS [the International Adult Literacy Survey] in 1996, with up to 72% of Maori and Pacific Islanders performing at the two lowest levels in the same survey...New Zealand ranked 14th among 15 countries in the IALS survey'.

To access a summary of New Zealand statistics in the Innocenti Report Card click on www.maxim.org.nz/ri/innocenti.html To view the entire UNICEF document, click on to http://www.unicef-icdc.org/publications/pdf/repcard4e.pdf , and for further information on the New Zealand Curriculum project go to www.tki.org.nz/e/nzcurriculum

Te Mangai Paho

The Minister of Maori Affairs, Parekura Horomia, has been feeling the heat in the last week over the Maori Broadcasting Funding Agency, Te Mangai Paho (TMP). Mr Horomia has become entrapped in allegations of corruption and mismanagement at TMP. An acting head, Wira Gardiner, has been appointed to inquire into the allegations.

Many ordinary New Zealanders are thoroughly confused about groups like TMP, and they view the on-going problems with frustration and even cynicism. Underneath this lies a desire for accountability, both within state-funded organisations and from cabinet ministers. Mr Horomia's obfuscation hasn't helped either. Notwithstanding the outcome of Mr Gardiner's inquiry, just who, if anyone, will be accountable if any impropriety is found?

Heading an organisation effectively requires more than simply belonging to a specified racial group; another Maori leader speaking with Maxim earlier this week highlighted the importance of prior management training and recognised credentials for top officials. In a beleaguered and volatile area like TMP, it is hoped the inquiry will conclude likewise.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Milton Friedman

Governments never learn. Only people learn.

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